Sometimes it’s the people you assume will be with you forever that pass away unexpectedly. Last fall, my Aunt E –farmwife, book lover, and lifelong lover of learning—went to be with her Lord at a young age. After she died, I began to reflect on just how much influence my aunt had on my life. Especially in the arena of books.
Aunt E. loved books. She decorated with books (“Books are the best things to decorate with,” she told me). Her living room included a built-in bookcase made of rough-hewn timbers and was lined with all sorts of books. There were her favorite Trixie Belden series from her teenage years. Classics. An old school textbooks. I once asked if she’d ever read any of them, expecting that she’d say they were just for pretty. But she surprised me by saying, “Of course!”
Uncle B. once gave his wife a stack of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not (from the old original series), which he’d scoured the local used bookstore for, and she enjoyed them just as much as if he’d given her flowers. It was not uncommon to see my aunt and uncle reading during their late supper-snack, after they’d come in from the barn chores.
Aunt E. loved learning anything and everything she could get her hands on to read. From history, psychology, to nature, it was said during her eulogy that she voraciously consumed nearly the entire local library. During the years 2006-2007, she read 216 books, –quite a feat, considering the amount of farm duties she took care of on a daily basis. Of course, audiobooks were a large part of her literary diet. Being so busy with farmwife duties, she often checked out audiobooks to listen to while canning peaches, cleaning house, or doing dishes. I remember riding with her home from the library while she popped in a cassette of “Jeeves and Wooster,” which was the first I’d ever heard of it. My aunt and uncle didn’t have tv, but she knew about so many subjects just from reading/listening that she often was more informed about topics than others in conversations. She knew as much (if not more so) about the scandal surrounding the Prince of Wales and Lady Di than we did after we’d watched a documentary on tv about it.
My aunt kept up a long-distance letter correspondence with my sister and I when we were growing up. That definitely exercised our writing skills! It was always the highlight of the week to find a letter in the mailbox from her. We talked about so many things. One time I wrote to her all about how scared I was to move, and in her responding letter she reminded me that ‘This is not our home; we’re just passing through…’ I think she liked to read about all the girlhood experiences we were having growing up. We liked to hear her unique thoughts on all types of things—from Christmas music to vacations, to Victorian dresses and politics. And books, of course!
Her first influence on me when it came to books was sending a box full of paperbacks to take along with me on a summer vacation camping trip to New York. I can’t remember what any of them were anymore, but I remember the gesture. If it hadn’t been for my aunt’s suggesting, I might not have discovered such books as: “Anne of Green Gables,” “Betsy, Tacy, Tib,” “Daddy-Long-Legs,” and “Laddie.” “Every girl needs to read the Anne books before she grows up,” she told me. And she was right. She also said that Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn” were best enjoyed as an adult.
It was my aunt who inspired me to start keeping my own “To-Read” notebook. I noticed she kept a little spiral bound one with the titles of books she wanted to look up at the library. I decided to start my own similar notebook, and have now graduated to two Meads: one for fiction, one for non-fiction. I remember asking my aunt if it were possible to ever run out of books to read. She shook her head. She was right, of course. (I also have her to thank for inspiring me to keep my own quote-book.)
My aunt and uncle didn’t have any children of their own, but they had many nieces and nephews. Her sister’s children (not related to us) were much younger than my sister and I, and their mother didn’t always have time to read to all of them at the time, so my aunt came up with an idea. They sent me her children’s picture books and asked me to tape record the stories and send them back for the kids to listen to and follow along. I loved doing that so much!! I probably had more fun than the kids did listening! And it also was my first experience in reading on tape for someone else. Now I have moved on to Librivox, but it was my aunt’s idea that made me realize it was a dream for me to pursue.
My sister and I stayed for several weeks at my aunt’s house the spring my grandmother died. I was 15 years old and needed a book to read to pass the time. I wandered down to the back living room, to the built-in bookcase beside the fireplace and decided to try a faded purple volume of “Jane Eyre.” I loved it! I spent many hours engrossed in the story of Jane and Rochester. Years later, my aunt gave me that very copy when she was ‘weeding out’ to make more room for other books.
Aunt E. told me she wished she’d spent more time reading the classics when she was growing up, but at the time she was only interested in horse stories. As an adult, she often said her favorite books were “Laddie,” by Gene Stratton-Porter, and the “All Creatures Great and Small” series by James Herriot. She said she’d listened to the latter so many times on audiobook she had it memorized, and that when she finally got the chance to watch the tv series, she knew what the characters were going to say before said it!
Her annual Christmas letters definitely showed a James Herriot influence. She usually had some sort of animal story to tell, farm drama or other tidbit to share, and could spin it in such a humorous way that people often anticipated next year’s letter. People told her she ought to write a book. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Aunt E didn’t like sad endings (I remember she gave up an audiobook early on in the story because the main character’s beloved aunt died). It was a shock to all of us when she became very sick several months before she passed. But she bravely faced her own mortality—because she believed that those who belong to Christ Jesus are promised an ultimately glorious ending… which happens to be the beginning of another and Better Story.